Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu meet for coalition talks
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As Gantz seeks coalition, Netanyahu says Arab MKs ‘want to destroy the country’

PM tells Likud rally that formation of a Blue and White-led minority government backed by the Joint List would be a ‘historic terror attack’ against Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on November 17, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on November 17, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

State prosecutors delay annual gathering as Netanyahu indictment decision looms

The State Prosecutor’s Office has delayed its annual gathering later this week in a potential sign Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is gearing up to announce whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of graft cases.

According to the Ynet news site, the meeting will not be held until a decision is made concerning Netanyahu.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing.

Mandelblit is expected to soon announce whether Netanyahu will be charged. A report over the weekend said Netanyahu’s Likud party believes the announcement may come as soon as Tuesday.

2 Gazans charged with taking part in border riots

Two Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are indicted in an Israeli court for alleged crimes against the security of the state.

The indictment filed at the Beersheba District Court accuses the suspects, ages 20 and 21, of taking part in clashes along the border fence, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

One of them also allegedly was involved in launching incendiary airborne devices from the Strip toward Israel.

The two were arrested while crossing into Israel from Gaza three weeks ago, Channel 13 reports.

Iranian cop killed in clashes over fuel price hike

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian policeman died today after being shot in a clash with “rioters and thugs” during protests against petrol price hikes, state news agency IRNA reports.

Major Iraj Javaheri died of his wounds a day after a confrontation with armed attackers in the western city of Kermanshah on Saturday, provincial police chief Ali Akbar Javidan says, cited by IRNA.

The officer was “martyred in a confrontation with a number of rioters and thugs,” Javidan says. He suffered a gunshot wound while trying to defend his police station from the assailants who attempted to seize it, Javidan says.

It is the second confirmed death since protests erupted across Iran on Friday after the announcement of a decision to impose petrol price hikes and rationing.

“The people of Kermanshah, alongside people of other cities, peacefully protested the recent developments… and their concerns will certainly be heard,” says Javidan. “The majority of citizens do not approve of the chaos caused by some known individuals and clearly ask for confronting them,” the police chief adds.

One civilian was killed during demonstrations in the central city of Sirjan, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported yesterday, citing acting governor Mohammad Mahmoudabadi.

— AFP

After Halle synagogue attack, owner gifts kebab shop to employees

FRANKFURT, Germany — The owner of a kebab shop targeted in a deadly far-right attack in the German city of Halle last month has gifted the eatery to the two brothers who were working there during the shooting.

Siblings Ismet and Rifat Tekin received a framed letter transferring the ownership of the Kiez-Doener to them in a ceremony yesterday as the restaurant reopened for the first time since the October 9 attack.

“I wish my successors much strength in processing the terrible events of October 9, 2019 and hope they have many customers of different cultures and religions,” their former boss Izzet Cagac writes in the letter, which was accompanied by a key.

A 20-year-old customer was shot dead when a gunman opened fire on the kebab shop after earlier trying and failing to storm a synagogue. He also killed a female passerby.

The assailant, a suspected neo-Nazi, was arrested and later admitted that the attack was motivated by anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism, fueling concerns about an increasingly violent far-right scene in Germany.

At the reopened kebab shop, a colorful memorial wall pays tribute to the victims and all customers could eat for free over the weekend, local media reported.

Der Spiegel weekly praises Cagac’s gift as an act of hope.

“In a society increasingly plagued by brutality and hatred, this gesture of solidarity and humanity offers a small ray of light,” it writes.

— AFP

Joint List head asks for protection after photo shared of him in Islamic Jihad fatigues

The head of the Joint List of four predominantly Arab parties has requested protect after threats against him, Army Radio reports.

In a letter to the police commissioner and head of the Knesset Guard, Ayman Odeh highlighted a graphic shared on Twitter of his head imposed on a uniform of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

The text accompany the tweet reads: “After the last flareup and the protests in support of Gaza I was remained of what Ayman Odeh told Army Radio: ‘I want to be opposition leader and receive security briefings,’ but the left still doesn’t understand the danger of Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters in the Israeli Knesset and wants to form a narrow government with them.”

The letter from Odeh says the photo is seeking to portray him as an “enemy of the public” and encourage violence against him.

“History taught us the power of photos like these to lead to political murder,” he writes.

Odeh calls for an investigation into the photo and for whoever was responsible for it to be tried.

The Twitter account by behind the image, @TrueNewsIl, also shared a photo of Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi in an Islamic Jihad uniform.

https://twitter.com/TrueNewsIL/status/1194917263050190848

Joint List says Netanyahu ‘incitement’ leading to death threats

The Joint List of predominantly Arab parties accuses Prime Minister Netanyahu of “incitement” that it says led to death threats against its members.

With the clock running out for Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to form a coalition, Netanyahu is claiming his centrist rival is working to put together a minority government backed by the Joint List. The premier has dubbed Joint List lawmakers “supporters of Islamic Jihad and Hamas,” a pair of Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

“In recent days Netanyahu has crossed every line with his dangerous and wild incitement. He is spreading lies and claiming our Knesset members are terror supporters. The Arab community and its representatives are legitimate like every community,” the party says in a statement.

“We appeal to President Reuven Rivlin and the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, to take a stance against incitement, which has led to dozens of death threats against our members,” the statement adds.

Haredi parties said staying away from right-wing rally because of gender-mixing

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties will not attend an “emergency” rally this evening against a potential minority government backed by Arab lawmakers as men and women will be sitting together, Channel 13 reports.

According to the network, the event is also expected to include female singing. Under Orthodox law, men are prohibited from hearing women sing in certain contexts.

Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu meet for coalition talks

The negotiating teams from the Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties are meeting in a bid to hammer out agreement on a ruling coalition before Blue and White chief Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government runs out Wednesday.

The Blue and White negotiators will meet later this afternoon with the Labor-Gesher party.

Suspicious package found by synagogue in Netherlands

A suspicious package has been found near a synagogue in the Dutch city of Delft, according to local reports.

Police near the synagogue have closed nearby streets and the bomb squad is reportedly on the way.

An Israeli musical group is set to perform at the synagogue this evening.

Police said to determine package near Dutch synagogue not suspicious

A suspicious package found near a synagogue in the Dutch city of Delft has been examined and found not to be suspicious, the Kan public broadcaster quotes police in the Netherlands as saying.

Lebanon’s outgoing PM blasts president’s party over delays in forming new government

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister is harshly criticizing the party of the country’s president after weeks of delay in forming a new Cabinet.

A statement released today by Saad Hariri’s office calls the policies of Michel Aoun’s party “irresponsible.”

Almost three weeks after Hariri resigned amid massive anti-government protests, Aoun has yet to call for consultations with parliamentary blocs’ leaders to name a new premier.

Nationwide demonstrations began on October 17 against new taxes amid a plunging economy. They’re now calling for the downfall of the political elite who have run the country since the 1975-90 civil war.

Some major factions in Lebanon’s sectarian political system want to keep Hariri in the new government. But they want him to form a cabinet of politicians and technocrats. He’s insisting on only technocrats.

— AP

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (L) and Prime Minister Saad Hariri meet at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on January 31, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Rivlin calls on Blue and White, Likud ‘to come to their senses,’ form government

With Benny Gantz’s Wednesday deadline to form a government quickly approaching, President Reuven Rivlin calls on the Blue and White and Likud parties to get a grip and to put together government to avoid a third round of elections in less than a year.

“I call on both Likud and Blue and White to come to their senses and understand the nation doesn’t want further elections. It has had enough of these elections,” Rivlin says during a visit to the southern city of Netivot.

“You have problems? There are personal problems? They are possible to solve,” Rivlin adds.

The president says the two parties should first reach agreement on the principles of a coalition and then put together a government. “A government that politically will be possible to exist,” he says.

“You are representatives of the sovereign, but never forget — the sovereign is the nation,” Rivlin says.

Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu say ‘real progress’ made on coalition principles

Negotiators from the Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu wrap up their meeting and in a joint statement say they’ve made “real progress in formulating [coalition] principles, in particular on matters concerning issues of religion and state.”

Both parties campaigned on forming a so-called liberal unity government.

The statement says the negotiating teams will meet again later this evening, as well as tomorrow.

Negotiations from the Blue and White (L) and Likud parties hold coalition talks in Ramat Gan on November 17, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Egypt officials: 3 members of security forces killed in Sinai blast

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Egyptian officials say a roadside bomb has killed at least three members of the security forces in the restive northern Sinai province.

The explosion hit their armored vehicle today in the town of Sheikh Zuweid. Four other security force members were wounded, including an officer.

The officials speak on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk to reporters.

No group immediately claims responsibility for the attack.

Egypt has for years been battling an insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula that’s now led by an Islamic State jihadist group affiliate. The fighting intensified in 2013 after the military overthrew the country’s elected but divisive Islamist president.

Authorities heavily restrict access to northern Sinai, making it difficult to verify claims related to the fighting.

— AP

Blue and White leaders to meet to discuss progress in coalition talks

The leaders of the Blue and White party will meet at party headquarters at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the understandings it has reached with Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher on a possible coalition.

“At the meeting, Gantz will give an update on his meeting with the president yesterday and the options under discussion,” a Blue and White statement says.

Netanyahu meets with families of IDF soldiers whose bodies are held by Hamas

Prime Minister Netanyahu met with the families of two Israeli soldiers whose bodies are held by the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, the premier’s office says.

Netanyahu updates the families on efforts to return the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in the 2014 Gaza war, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

A PMO statement says the Goldin and Shaul families raised other options for retrieving the bodies of their sons that Netanyahu instructed his aides to look into.

Earlier today, Hadar Goldin’s parents slammed a ceasefire last week to end fighting with the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, calling it an “abandonment” of their son and Oron Shaul.

Netanyahu said seeking to cancel Likud leadership race if third elections held

Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking to cancel Likud party primaries and the race for party leader if a third round of elections are held, the Walla news site reports.

According to the news site, Netanyahu has already informed Likud MKs of his intention to keep the party’s electoral slate in place if Israel again goes to the polls, despite Likud’s constitution requiring primaries and leadership race in case elections are called.

Citing Likud officials, the report says Netanyahu will try to link shelving the primaries to canceling the leadership race

“The new MKs on the list who still haven’t completed a year in office will do everything to not go to primaries in which they can lose their spots and therefore it is everyone’s interest to maintaining the existing situation,” one of the officials is quoted saying.

The official says Netanyahu has already discussed nixing the primaries with Likud MK Haim Katz, who heads the party’s powerful Central Committee.

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, considered Netanyahu’s top rival in the party, has already announced he’ll challenge the premier for leadership of Likud if primaries are called.

With Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz’s chances appearing slim to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so following elections in September, the potential for a third round of elections in less than a year has grown.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (shakes hands with Gideon Sa’ar (right) during a Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rouhani says riot-hit Iran cannot allow ‘insecurity’

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says that Iran cannot allow “insecurity” in the face of rioting after two days of violent demonstrations against a gasoline price hike.

“Protesting is the people’s right, but protesting is different from rioting. We should not allow insecurity in the society,” Rouhani tells a cabinet meeting, quoted by his official website.

— AFP

Iranian protesters gather around a burning car during a demonstration against an increase of gasoline prices, in the capital Tehran, November 16, 2019. (AFP)

Family of Israeli held in Gaza says it was told meeting with Netanyahu was canceled

The family of an Israeli who is believed held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip says it was told a meeting set with Prime Minister Netanyahu had been canceled, even though the premier met with the families of two soldiers whose bodies are being held by the terror group.

“It turns out the postponement was just for us. What Netanyahu wouldn’t dare do to the Goldin and Shaul families he has no problem doing to us,” the Mengistu family is quoted saying by Channel 13 news.

Avera Avraham Mengistu, whose family has said he suffers from a mental illness, crossed into northern Gaza from Israel in September 2014. After he entered the coastal enclave, Hamas was thought to have arrested him.

The parents of Avraham Abera Mengistu protest outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, September 11, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Netanyahu, Liberman hold talks on advancing unity government

Likud party chief Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman held a “good and matter-of-fact conversation” at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv that focused on how to form a unity government, the parties say in a joint statement.

“The two agreed to meet again,” the statement says.

The meeting comes after Yisrael Beytenu’s negotiators met with their Blue and White counterparts earlier and made “real progress” in coalition talks.

Netanyahu is set to address a rally in Tel Aviv later warning against a potential Blue and White minority government backed by the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties.

At Likud ’emergency rally,’ Netanyahu supporters rail against prosecutors

Several hundred Israelis gather at the Tel Aviv Expo convention center for an “emergency rally” organized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, in light of what he claims is the growing possibility that political rival Benny Gantz will form a minority government reliant on the outside support of the majority-Arab Joint List.

But while the rally is meant to raise public awareness regarding what Netanyahu claims is the danger of such a minority government, over a dozen attendees who speak to The Times of Israel say they are far more disturbed by the State Prosecutor’s Office’s conduct in the criminal probes against the premier.

“What the prosecution is doing to Bibi is simply unbelievable. They put a target on him the moment he entered office and will stop at nothing to take him down,” says Tal Shafrir.

The 64-year-old Ramat Aviv resident has written the letter “B” on each of her hands along with several of her friends in a show of support for Netanyahu, whose nickname is “Bibi.”

Many attendees wave Israeli and Likud flags as well as signs calling for the jailing of Deputy State Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari and the interrogation of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

As they wait for Netanyahu to take the stage, members of the audience chant “Bibi, king of Israel, long may he live” and “the people demand legal justice.”

— Jacob Magid

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Tel Aviv Expo convention on November 17, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

At rally, Likud MK says Blue and White want to ‘neutralize’ Netanyahu

Opening the rally, Likud Knesset faction chairman Miki Zohar tells attendees that they are gathering in Tel Aviv because Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are bent on forming a minority government reliant on the outside support of the Joint List.

“They are doing this in order to neutralize a sitting prime minister,” Zohar shouts to an eruption of boos from the crowd.

— Jacob Magid

Blue and White, Labor-Gesher make ‘significant progress’ in coalition talks

Coalition negotiators from Blue and White and Labor-Gesher finish meeting, with the parties saying in a joint statement that “significant progress was made” toward agreement on key issues in a potential government, including on settlements and agriculture.

The parties say they expect to meet again soon.

Netanyahu: Arab-backed minority government an ‘existential threat’ to Israel

Prime Minister Netanyahu takes the stage at his Likud party’s “emergency rally,” railing against what he says is an effort by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz to form a minority government backed by the Joint List of four predominantly Arab parties.

“We’re in a fateful moment” for Israel, Netanyahu says. “The MKs of the Joint List support terror organizations. They call Israeli soldiers murderers.”

Netanyahu claims that during a flareup between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza last week, Gantz held coalition talks “with those same MKs who support terror organizations and want to destroy the country.”

The Likud chief says that while he does not want further elections, a Joint-List backed government would be worse. Such a government would an “existential threat” to Israel, he says.

Netanyahu: Joint List-backed government would be a ‘terror attack’ against Israel

Continuing his warnings against a Blue and White government backed by the Joint List, Netanyahu says such a coalition “will be celebrated in Tehran, Ramallah, in Gaza.”

“Just as they celebrate every terror attack, but this will be a national historic terror attack on the State of Israel,” he says.

Blue and White replies to PM’s speech at Likud rally: Netanyahu only looking out for himself

The Blue and White party replies to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at a Likud “emergency rally” warning against a Blue and White-led minority government backed by the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties.

“Residents of the south did not get a ’emergency rally,’ neither did the sick who are strewn in the corridors, not the elderly or disabled,” the party says in a statement.

“As usual, Netanyahu only worries about Netanyahu.”

Joint List chief: Netanyahu doesn’t know how to lose, only to incite

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh reacts to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, in which the premier asserted that members of the majority Arab Joint List “want to destroy” Israel.

“There won’t be a ‘Benjamin’ junction or ‘Netanyahu high school.’ This evening he sealed his legacy as a bitter criminal who doesn’t know how to lose, only to harm and incite against those he was supposed to serve,” Odeh tweets.

“All of us, Arabs and our Jewish partners, will breath a sigh of right relief the day [Netanyahu] goes and we’ll continue to fight for peace, equality, democratic and social justice,” adds Odeh.

Internet access reportedly restricted as fuel hike protests rock Iran

TEHRAN, Iran — Authorities have restricted internet access in Iran, the semi-official ISNA news agency says today, after nearly two days of nationwide protests triggered by a petrol price hike.

“Access to the internet has been limited as of last night and for the next 24 hours,” an informed source at the information and telecommunications ministry says, quoted by ISNA.

The decision was made by the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and communicated to internet service providers overnight, the source adds.

It comes after state television accused “hostile media” of trying to use fake news and videos on social media to exaggerate the protests as “large and extensive.”

Netblocks, a website that monitors online services, said yesterday the country was in the grip of an internet shutdown.

“Confirmed: Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown; realtime network data show connectivity at 7% of ordinary levels after twelve hours of progressive network disconnections,” it says on Twitter.

At least one person was killed and others injured during the demonstrations that started across the country on Friday night, Iranian media said.

The protests erupted hours after it was announced the price of petrol would be increased by 50 percent for the first 60 litres and 300% for anything above that each month.

— AFP

Liberman: Any ‘narrow’ government would be a ‘distaster’ for Israel

Yisrael Beytenu party chief says any “narrow” government made up of right-wing and religious parties, or alternatively one composed of left-wing and Arab parties, would be a “disaster” for Israel.

“Personally, the best thing would be a narrow government,” Liberman says at an event in Tel Aviv, explaining he would likely have greater influence in such a government. “In any narrow government, I could get half the kingdom.”

“From the perspective of the State of Israel, any narrow government will be a disaster,” he continues. “This is a government that will need to fight every week to  survive.”

Liberman says his priorities are the formation of a unity government and the avoiding further elections.

Germany urges Iran to respect ‘legitimate’ protests

Berlin urges Iran to respect the “legitimate” protests against a gas price hike and open talks with the demonstrators.

“It is legitimate and deserving of our respect when people courageously air their economic and political grievances, as is currently happening in Iran,” says Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer.

“The Iranian government should respond to the current protests with a willingness to engage in dialogue,” she tells a regular press conference, adding that Germany is following the events “with concern.”

“We urge the government in Tehran to respect freedom of assembly and expression,” she says.

The French foreign ministry separately says it is “closely following” the events in Iran.

France is reiterating the need “to respect freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman says.

AFP

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Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu meet for coalition talks

The negotiating teams from the Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties are meeting in a bid to hammer out agreement on a ruling coalition before Blue and White chief Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government runs out Wednesday.

The Blue and White negotiators will meet later this afternoon with the Labor-Gesher party.